Grant funds interdisciplary concentration


Three months after receiving a $1.95 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Graduate School is using some of the funds to create a new concentration for Ph.D. students.

“Technologies of Knowledge,” the new concentration, will bring together 12 third-year Ph.D. students from various disciplines to partake in a two-semester interdisciplinary seminar on the technologies involved in disseminating knowledge. Participating students will begin the program this spring and receive an additional year of funding to pursue interdisciplinary research. Yale College Dean Mary Miller said the concentration will broaden students’ research horizons and enrich their academic work, which she said she hopes will give students a competitive edge in the job market for professors.

“This will be the systematic process of bringing students together from different disciplines to work with a team of faculty, who themselves come from different disciplines,” Miller said. “We were looking at what would be a topic that would allow for emergence of new questions and new knowledge.”

As part of the grant’s aim to enhance humanities education at Yale, students in the new seminar will discuss the transmission of knowledge across cultures and civilizations, examining topics such as university education, writing systems, libraries, film and digital media. The class will be co-taught by classics professor Emily Greenwood, philosophy and psychology professor Tamar Gendler ’87 and film and humanities professor Francesco Casetti.

Gendler said the Mellon concentration will expose students to important work in other fields and different research methodologies, adding that while discipline-specific study leads to strong academic work, it is also inward-focused.

“Undergraduate study is cross-pollinated,” Gendler said. “I think [the Mellon concentration] is a way of recognizing the importance of disciplinary study and getting thoughts, techniques and methods formed in the context of these disciplines circulated more widely in the Graduate School.”

Though other academic departments and programs at Yale also incorporate interdisciplinary study, Gendler said she is not aware of programs at other graduate schools that create “institutional structure” to bring students together to discuss a particular topic and integrate the discussions across disciplines.

The professors teaching the course said a few students have already expressed interest in the concentration, though they expect to hear more when news of its creation has spread.

Jordan Brower GRD ’16, a film studies and English Ph.D. student, said the directors of graduate studies for both of his departments circulated information about the program last week. Brower said he supports the initiative but added that he questions the value of its interdisciplinary approach given that it does not extend into disciplines outside the humanities.

“The different humanistic approaches are much closer to each other than those used in communications studies or sociology or in the Law School,” Brower said. “Why would you need to get 10 humanists together to study with three humanities majors?”

Brower said further information about the program would clarify some of these questions.

The Mellon Grant also funds a series of ten faculty workshops to examine strategies to enhance the teaching of humanities in Yale College and a program for postdoctoral fellows that has not yet been formalized, Miller said.

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